Every January, we play the same game. We make our New Year’s resolutions and then struggle to follow through on them. And of course we get frustrated when we can’t achieve a resolution or find ourselves forgetting about it.
It’s easy to gain motivation at the turn of the year, but it’s just as easy to lose it — so recognize you’re not alone. Keeping your resolutions year-round requires some work, but with a process like this one, it’s easier to set — and achieve — life-changing goals.
1. Brainstorm the Possibilities
There could be all kinds of ways you’d like to change your life, habits, or outlook for the better. So think about what kinds of resolutions you’d like to make. Should these focus on your health, your finances, your career, your relationships, or something else entirely?
Sit and record every possibility that comes to mind no matter how small or large, how realistic or seemingly absurd. Don’t worry about your proto-resolutions making sense at this stage; try to write each idea when you think of it without judgment. There must be some reason “finally read ‘Crime and Punishment’” occurred to you, so jot it down.
Once your list is complete, edit each idea so it is worded as a goal rather than a vague desire. Instead of “get healthy,” you could vow to try one new active pursuit, like paddleboarding or mountain biking, per month. This way, when you try each month’s activity, the feeling that you’re making progress will motivate you forward. Vague resolutions can get easily lost in the sea of “I’ll do it someday.”
2. Organize Resolutions by Degree of Effort
Now separate your list into three categories: those that require the most effort, a moderate amount, and the least. A high-effort goal could be to lose 50 pounds by 2023, while a daily 15-minute walk could be considered low-effort. Keep in mind that what may be low-effort to others (e.g., plant a garden) may be high-effort to you and vice versa. Be sure to tailor this list to your lifestyle as best you can.
Then examine what you have and cut the list down to a handful, with representatives from each category. Choose some quick wins to stay motivated, some medium-effort goals to stretch yourself, and a hard one to effect major change.
It’s crucial to keep your list manageable because just as vague resolutions can get lost, an overwhelming amount can make you give up. Too much pressure and an unrealistically long list can easily result in paralysis.
3. Set Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Milestones for Progress
Let’s face it: Work on your New Year’s resolutions needs to fit into your day-to-day life or it will never happen. How can you make progress on your resolutions while not stretching yourself too thin among existing responsibilities? By looking at your list to determine how you might gain ground on each resolution on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Losing 50 pounds this year is simpler if you redefine it as three visits to the gym per week. Or let’s say you want to exercise your creative side and make 100 drawings this year. There are 52 weeks in a year, so resolve to make two drawings a week. By breaking down the overall resolution into twice-weekly tasks, you’re far more likely to hit or surpass your goal than to miss it.
You can start to rack up wins by putting effort into the easiest resolutions — the small daily ones (e.g., floss at bedtime). These are the most convenient goals to begin with because, by doing that minimum amount daily, progress will be noticeable. By setting daily and weekly mini-goals, you’ll feel yourself moving closer to where you want to be. Two drawings a week is slow going, but by the end, you’ll have made 104 in total.
4. Add Your Resolution Tasks to Your Digital Calendar
One of the biggest challenges of completing New Year’s resolutions is keeping them on your mind as time goes on. One way of circumventing this is to schedule various resolution tasks (“kayaking on Lake M.,” “drawing session,” etc.) in your digital calendar.
You’ll always be seeing your goals as you check your calendar and can even set alarms for them. Whether willpower is your thing or not, reminders will notify you of your next task regardless of when it is scheduled.
In other words, the automated nature of this process takes the burden of keeping yourself accountable off of you. You’ll no longer have to monitor your progress because once you’ve planned out your resolution tasks, you just have to follow the plan. In the end, you’ll see how much you have changed in retrospect and will be inspired to do it again next year.
5. Do What You Can, When You Can
Remember that you’re only human, and it can take a while for you to get used to performing these tasks. That’s the reason you’re only starting with a handful — so you can more easily fit them into your schedule. Even then there may be days where time is hard to find, and it’s OK to miss something on occasion. You can still get to your 100 drawings in a year if you skip a week.
All that matters is that you keep chipping away at each resolution. If you need to reschedule some of your resolution tasks, that’s fine, too. Getting things done, even just the minimum, puts you miles ahead of where you would have been otherwise. Slowly but surely, the results will become clear.
Time is relative, and it’s not like the new year requires resolutions. You can set goals at any time. Still, this time of year does offer an inspiring opportunity to get a jump on life-improving changes. By following this process, you’ll find making — and keeping — resolutions to be much easier this time around.